While we here at BestBeginnerMotorcycles are of the “All The Gear, All The Time” (ATGATT) school of thought, we also realize for the beginner motorcyclist, sometimes all the gear can be a little pricey. This is tripled when it comes to helmets, as not only are they the single most important piece of gear, they’re often also the most expensive piece of gear.
In terms of protection, a full-face helmet is by far the preferred option. When compared to half helmets or three-quarter helmets, the biggest area of additional protection is the jaw. As well, by having the chin bar across the front, it connects the lower sides of the helmet, adding in exponentially stronger helmet strength.
As such, for this 2021 list, we’ve done the research, asked the manufacturers and retailers, and even gone out and tried on a lot of helmets to find out which ones are the best you can get for under $500. Another great list: the best modular helmets under $500.
The Shoei RF-1400 Helmet tickles right at the very edge of the limit of pricing for this article. However, for the $499.99 you pay for it, you get all of the knowledge that Shoei has garnered over 50+ years and a helmet that takes the lessons learned from the RF-1200 to heart.
The helmet’s shell is made of multiple, interwoven layers of both fiberglass and organic fibers to make a supremely durable, yet exceptionally lightweight helmet. It is lined with dual-layer, multi-density EPS foam. The shell has spent hundreds if not thousands of hours in the wind tunnel, increasing the noise resistance over the already-quiet RF-1200.
Those same wind tunnel tests improved the shape of the helmet, reducing drag by 4% and lift by 6%. A new faceplate system, CWR-F2, replaces the original system, adding a 10% wider field of view as well as being Pinlock EVO compatible. It is also easier and quicker to switch shields out with the simple “pop out” mechanism when the faceplate is fully raised.
A chin curtain and breath guard come with the helmet, and it has achieved the latest Snell M2020 and DOT certifications.
The new Scorpion EXO-HX1 is a superb helmet for the beginner, for three main reasons.
Firstly, it is a combination of two helmets into one. You have a standard full-face helmet, and a supermoto helmet when you replace the visor with a peak shade and goggles. Secondly, it is made of very durable, impact-absorbing LG polycarbonate for its shell, with advanced multi-layer, dual-density EPS foam backing it up throughout. Third, as it is designed to be able to handle goggles of multiple sizes in the supermoto setup, the visor is extremely large, and allows for a great field of view.
It also comes with the latest KwikWick III lining, which is fully removable and machine washable, and has excellent ventilation via a large mouth vent, which also directs air around the cheeks, and ram air upper intake, which covers the ventilation around the top and sides of the head. All is exhausted through the subtle venturi exhaust at the back of the head.
Putting all of it together, you have a helmet that really should be nearer to $300, yet is selling for around $200.
To say that the ICON AirFlite helmet, in all its variations, is one of the rugged standards of less-expensive helmets is not pushing it too far. No matter if you have a first version or the latest version with the MIPS Jewel, it is just a good helmet for a good number of riders with intermediate oval-shaped heads.
What makes it stand out as one of the best in 2021 is that after a long time with just EPS foam, this 2021 edition now comes with MIPS, which stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. So what does it do? MIPS almost like a scaffolding inside the helmet, that allows the head to rotate a few millimeters before the helmet itself takes over. This small amount of motion is enough to act as a sort of shock absorber for the brain, giving it enough time to start to rotate before the full force of an impact is transferred through the helmet.
Combined with the injection-molded polycarbonate shell and multi-layer EPS foam, this helmet provides, for the price, excellent impact mitigation. On top of that, being part of the ICON Air-series of helmets, it has a lot of ventilation. Two top-mounted intakes feed a series of ventilation channels, while the chin air intake feeds both cooling air down the lower part of the helmet, while also feeding fresh air for the rider to breathe. All of that air is exhausted through two oversize exhausts below the rear mini-spoiler.
The visor is the only really controversial part of the helmet, as some like it, some hate it. The fact that you get a clear faceplate and a dark smoke faceplate in the box, as well as a fog-free drop-down sun visor inside the helmet, it just all adds up to make the $320 asking price seem a bargain. As well, the helmet is part of ICON’s “world certification program,” meaning it conforms to DOT 218 (US), ECE 22-05 (EU), and other certifications from around the world.
For the beginner riders that will be looking more towards the sports side of things, maybe even graduating into supersports down the road, this is the first helmet you will want to have. Sedici has two versions of the Strada II, with two important differences. What is not different is the construction of both, with proprietary fiberglass weaved in with aramid fibers creating a super strong, yet lightweight, shell. This is backed with dual-density EPS, with multiple ventilation channels.
The differences between the helmets are important, although one is quite minor, the other major. The minor difference is that the Strada II Solid features a drop-down sun visor, controlled by a slider on the lower left of the chinbar. This sun visor does not appear on the Strada II Primo. The reason for that, and the difference of major importance, is that the Strada II Primo is positioned as a track-ready helmet. As such, it carries the coveted Snell M2020 certification that many track schools or amateur racing events require helmets to have.
No matter which helmet you eventually do go for, rest assured that both have excellent ventilation, with a two-position chin vent, two crown vents with 3 positions each, and two venturi exhausts sucking all the hot air out the back of the helmet. The quick release visor (a clear one comes in the box) is pinlock ready for anti-fogging, and the lining and padding is fully removable and partially adjustable at the forehead and temples. The padding is hydradry, wicking moisture away from your face, and machine washable.
The Strada II Solid is DOT certified, while the Strada II Primo is Snell Foundation M2020 certified (the highest rating a US helmet can have).
The second Scorpion helmet on our 2021 list isn’t technically a new 2021 helmet. The EXO-R420 has been around for a good three to four years now, yet still earns a spot on our list because of three quite important reasons.
The first reason is that it’s a proven, effective helmet. It is based on the design and feedback of both the EXO-R1 Carbon, which costs nearly $600, and the EXO-R1GP, which is the helmet that MotoGP star rider Fabio Quartararo of Monster Energy Yamaha Racing wears. It takes the lessons learned from those top-tier helmets, and, for the second important reason, puts them into a helmet in the extremely affordable range, well under $200.
The third important reason this helmet earns its spot on our list is because of the things that you get with it. Ellip-Tec II (from the racing team) holds the visor snug to the helmet, meaning no gaps and smoother aerodynamics. KwikWick II anti-microbial liners are fully removable and machine washable, while also keeping you cool in the summer and warm in the fall. Aerodynamically tuned ventilation allows cooling air in the crown ram-air vent and the chin vent while whisking the hot air out two thin venturi exhausts out the back.
As well, the cheek pads have emergency release tabs for medical personnel to safely and quickly remove your helmet if you need emergency aid. And to top it off, being a racing-derived helmet, it holds both DOT and Snell Foundation M2015 certifications. All for $150.
HJC has made some very good helmets over the years, especially in their higher-tier RPHA helmets. However, as not every rider can afford a $500+ carbon-fiber helmet, a lot of the lessons learned from the RPHA are trickled-down into the affordable beginner helmet range. In this case, HJC is targeting those newer riders who are going for the sport touring or standard bike types.
The i70 Reden is the latest in these less expensive, but still impressive, helmets. Made with a polycarbonate shell, it is backed with dual-layer, multi-density EPS foam with ventilation channels. The inner lining is moisture wicking and semi-permeable in places, allowing cooling air to reach your head. The cheek pads and helmet liner are removable and machine washable.
Where the more expensive helmet stuff trickles down is in the ventilation and visor. A three-position inner sunshade allows for personalization of the amount of shade you get. The visor itself is pinlock ready, and features a center push button lock that is easily actuated with gloves on. The visor is also on a quick-release system if you need to switch out to a tinted visor.
Ventilation is via a massive 7 intake vents (two in the chin bar and five in the crown and top), and two stacked venturi exhausts, with the topmost helping extract even more hot air from the lower exhaust. This ventilation is also intelligently routed through channels in the EPS foam, and gets maximum coverage of the head, another trickle-down from the RPHA series.
The HJC i70 Reden comes with a breath deflector and a chin curtain and carries full DOT certification.
So why are we featuring a premium helmet in a beginner’s under $500 helmet list? Because Arai realized that there were beginner riders out there that wanted the best, but could not afford the often $850+ price tag that goes with the name.
And so Arai created the Regent-X helmets. At just $60 over the $500 mark, we think it deserves a special mention. This is Arai’s new entry-level helmet, the one they are making and marketing towards new riders or experienced riders wanting a great helmet.
The Regent-X is made of Arai’s legendary peripherally laminated, one continuous belt of fiberglass construction is used for this helmet, giving it extraordinary strength while being elastic enough to absorb a good part of an impact. It is backed by multi-density EPS of the highest quality, and well over dual-density.
The helmet uses the Free Flow System of ventilation that is popular on the Corsair-X, a $1,000+ model, that places the intakes on the brow and chin, and literally allows the air to flow freely down internal ventilation channels. Instead of forcing that air to return back up to the top of the head for exhaust, the primary exhausts are mounted low and on the sides of the back of the helmet. A venturi exhaust still exists up high to get rid of excess air.
The liner is adjustable, with both removable 5mm foam pads from the cheek liners, as well as a foam spring support system that pushes the padding into the cheeks gently, without squishing the face. There is a built-in, non-removable chin curtain, and Arai’s classic VAS-V max vision visor, ready for use with a pinlock anti-fog insert.
The Arai Regent-X is definitely, completely, absolutely worth the purchase if you can swing the extra $60. The helmet is also DOT and Snell Foundation M2020 certified.